Slawomir Naploszek returns to Olympics three decades after debut

Slawomir Napłoszek shoots during practice at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Where were you in 1992?

For many of the 128 archers competing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, the answer is the same: They weren’t born yet. Even in a sport like archery, in which athletes can start and be competitive at almost any age, fortune often favours the young.

In the case of Slawomir Naploszek, however, a different answer arises.

The eldest archer in Tokyo made his Olympic debut at the Barcelona Games in 1992, at the age of 23, finishing 54th in what appeared to be the first of many appearances at the sport’s biggest stage. 

Three decades later, Naploszek is finally making his return.

The 54-year-old from Poland emerged from the pandemic reinvigorated to shoot, earning a quota place at the final qualifier for these Olympics in Paris, France – and just a couple of weeks later, found himself on the plane to Japan.

“It wasn’t easy,” he said. “My life has changed. I’m much older now.”

Naploszek previously abandoned his Olympic dreams after missing the cut for the 1996 Games in Atlanta. Seemingly positioned to return for a second chance at a medal, he was instead passed over in favour of a different archer, leading him to quit the sport.

“I was in good form, and it destroyed a piece of my life,” he told the Polish press. “It disgusted me completely. I was shooting for a while, but I felt that mentally I couldn’t do it.”

Decades later, Naploszek was encouraged to resume training in 2008 by his family and friends. His daughter, Kamila Naploszekhas represented Poland in archery at the international level, too, most recently competing at the European Grand Prix in Porec earlier this year.

They spent hours during lockdown in the corridor of their apartment shooting over distances of between two and three metres.

“He resumed his career because he loves archery and he enjoys winning,” Kamila said. “It’s a part of our lives, and it’s extremely important. It’s not so easy to just leave.”

Naploszek said his ambition is to compete at an Olympics alongside his daughter. That won’t be in Tokyo – but it’s certainly a stepping stone towards that goal.

“When I knew I guaranteed the spot for Tokyo, I was close to crying – me, a guy over 50,” Naploszek said. “I was very emotional having already gone through so much in my sporting career.”

So what’s the secret behind this sporting revival? Well, it’s nothing groundbreaking.

“There are three words,” said Slawomir. “Training, training and training.”

Competition at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games starts with qualifying on 23 July 2021.